Monday, November 18, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond Will & Power: A Biography of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

As an addendum to my short review of Earl G. Parreño's "Beyond Will & Power: A Biography of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte", I am writing this commentary solely focusing on the genealogical aspects of Parreño's work. As I said in my review, this book is quite unique as it is the first writeup on President Duterte that neither adulates nor criticizes the President. In the author's own words during his interview, he wants the readers to reach their own conclusion. 

Due to the hype in traditional and social media, especially focusing on the alleged "Maranao lineage" of the president, and the revelation that the President's maternal grandfather, Eleno Roa, was actually originallly Eleno Fernandez, I was excited to read the book. And while the book as a whole did not disappoint me, the several genealogical inaccuracies did.

On Eleno Roa

In the first part of the book, the author narrates that Eleno Roa was an illegitimate son of a Eugenio Fernandez and an unknown Roa. Based on the birth record of Soledad Roa (President Duterte's mother), it can be calculated that Eleno was born in 1883. The birth register further states that his birthplace was Cebu City. This contradicts the book's narrative stating that Eugenio was from Talisay, which was separate from Cebu then as now. It is also almost improbable for an illegitimate child in the 1880s to bear his father's last name unless a legal declaration is made by the father in court acknowledging the child as his hijo natural. This was called as the reconocimiento de hijos naturales and the Jakosalem family did it to one of its members while Don Pedro Gotiaoco also did this for his daughter Modesta Singson Gaisano. Unfortunately, I could not find any record from the 1880s that would support this. Further research into Eleno's ancestry is needed, and more documentation should be made before believing the Fernandez connection.

On the Debunked Portuguese Claims of the Velosos

As I have already written several times, President Duterte's male line is actually Veloso, not Duterte. The author has a short discussion on the Velosos but the unfortunate thing is, he focused more on the claim of the Velosos to be of Portuguese extraction. Again, this was already debunked by renowned American historian Michael Cullinane in his 2015 journal article "The Myth of the Portuguese Ancestor: The Veloso Family of Nineteenth-Century Cebu". Through archival documentation, he established that as far as records show, the Velosos were not of Portuguese but rather Chinese mestizo stock. While Parreño briefly states in the end notes of Cullinane's research, the perpetuation of the Portuguese myth is a bit sloppy genealogically speaking. Like any serious historical research, one should not continue to claim something, no matter how famous or widespread, if no documentation or proof exists to support it.

Parreño also missed the opportunity to compare and contrast Duterte's Veloso connections to other presidents clan connections. It is undeniable that the Velosos have spread out all over the Philippines. In fact, many of Duterte's political opponents in the early part of his presidency, like Garin, Petilla, and others who were associated with President Aquino were in fact his cousins. The author could have expounded on the wide network of relatives that Duterte had that did not necessarily contribute to his victory, but also some who did help him out like the Ayalas of Davao, who are also Velosos, who supported Duterte throughout his mayoral years.

On the Almendras Family

I am glad that this book is the first to go into details just how much the Almendras family, originally from Danao as well, assisted in the transfer and success of the Dutertes in Davao. Although they had a falling out much later, it is a historical fact that Senator Alejandro Almendras was instrumental to the Duterte's move and later entry to politics in Davao. These were clearly discussed in Parreño's book.

However, the author once again made a genealogical mistake when he wrote on page 40 that "the Dutertes and the Almendrases were not directly related to each other, neither by blood nor by marriage". This is incorrect. The Almendras family has long known that they are related to the Dutertes through the Gonzales line. Paulo Almendras, who married Elisea Durano and who was the father of Senator Alejandro Almendras, was the son of Juan Almendras and Cecilia Gonzales. Cecilia's first cousin, Zoila, married Facundo Duterte. They were Vicente Duterte's parents, making Vicente and Alejandro second cousins once removed or, in Cebuano, pag-umangkon sa pag-agawan. It is also interesting that while Parreño concluded that there was no blood relation between the Dutertes and Almendrases, he cites a Davao newspaper article in page 102 of the book which clearly stated that Almendras and Duterte were cousins.

Because of this error, he was also unable to connect Prospero "Boy" Nograles to Duterte. For most Dabawenyos, the rivalry between Nograles and Duterte is legendary. Although later becoming allies, the book's discussions on the Nograles-Duterte political fights would have been richer had the author realized that Nograles's wife Rhodora was another pag-umangkon sa pag-agawan of President Duterte. That is also why the children of former Speaker Nograles and President Duterte call each other gaw (cousin).

The Carpio Connection

The author mentioned briefly that Sara Duterte, daughter of President Duterte, married Atty. Manases "Mans" Carpio. It would have been good to remind the readers that two of President Duterte's most vocal critics, former Ombudsman Conchita Claudio Carpio-Morales is in fact Sara's aunt-in-law while Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio is a cousin.

The Jewish / Holocaust Connection

I have saved this genealogical boo-boo for last. In page 107, Parreño wrote that Elizabeth Zimmerman's father was "one of the Israeli refugees granted asylum by the Philippine government during the Second World War to escape Nazi Germany's bloody campaign against the Jews".

The Zimmerman surname is in fact a Germanic surname that most definitely has Jewish roots. However, Elizabeth's father was Godofredo B. Zimmerman, born on November 18, 1916 in Hilongos, Leyte. If the author had bothered to check on the birth record of Godofredo, he would have seen his error. Godofredo could not have been a Jewish refugee as he was born in the Philippines!

And although he used Zimmerman as a last name all his life, both Godofredo's birth and baptismal records list him under his mother's last name - Baldazo. His birth register in Hilongos, Leyte, while identifying him as illegitimate, does provide the name of his father: Geo. J. Zimmerman. This clue led us to his American father, George John Zimmerman, a Superintendent of Schools in Leyte who came to the Philippines in the early 1900s. It was George John Zimmerman's father, Michael August Zimmermann, who came to the United States from Bavaria, Germany. Also, while it is possible that the Zimmermann's in Germany had Jewish roots, the grandfather of Elizabeth and the rest of his family in America were all congregants of the Lutheran Church.

These observations are necessary to point out. The author did an amazing job in his research for the rest of the book. Sad that the genealogy he utilized for this book was most likely lifted from online sources that also continue to perpetuate these genealogical falsehoods due to sheer laziness. I hope future revisions to this book would seriously overhaul these genealogical errors.

P.S. I will not address the Maranao issue, which seems to be the focus of so many reporters. It is true that President Duterte has on many instances claimed to have Maranao blood. For those who have known President Duterte for a long time, he has the tendency to exaggerate or be hyperbolic in his statements. While the Marano lineage claim does appear to be false, Duterte comes from a generation that likes to claim to be descendants of great people. For instance, older generations of Bol-anons would always claim to be "descendants of Dagohoy" or kadugo ni Sikatuna. Cebuanos like to claim descent from Lapulapu. While majority of these claims are probably symbolic at best, Duterte, speaking for all Mindanaonons, could probably simply be talking in symbolism. Or if not, who knows why. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "Rodrigo Duterte is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". 

And if the reporters only bother to read, they would also come to this conclusion.


  1. I'm sure you had great knowledge about this. You gave us much information. This information is really good and commentable . Thanks for sharing your things with us. Genetic Genesis

  2. I see that the wrong claim about the origins of Elisabeth are still made on her Wikipedia page. Are there public records that can be linked to that confirm her lineage? A correction will be more easily accepted if backed this way.